Good Law | Bad Law #103 - The Power of the Law vs. Homelessness w/ Maria Foscarinis

Aaron Freiwald: [00:00:00.06] Welcome back to Good Law Bad Law. My guest on today's episode is Maria Foscarinis. She started out her career as a big firm lawyer in New York. But she gave it all up about 20 years or so ago to devote her attention and her efforts to homelessness. She founded an organization called the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and she's using the courts and her role as an advocate to change the way people think about homelessness and to change the rights of the homeless particularly in the area of decriminalizing homelessness. She's also partnered with former pop star Cyndi Lauper's organization True Colors in producing a state by state analysis of laws and regulations that affect the homeless. And this is a particular issue that is very prominent throughout the country. The problem of LGBT youth and homelessness. It's a fascinating episode. Her personal story and the issue of homelessness and how the power of the law the good of the law can be used to have a dramatic impact on this national problem. Stay tuned.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:01:27.12] Welcome back to Good Law Bad Law on today's episode we're talking about homelessness and poverty and the connection between the two and what one person and what one organization dedicated to eradicating homelessness in our country is doing about it and how the law is such an important part of her efforts and her organization's efforts and so I welcome Maria Foscarinis. Maria thank you so much for being on the program today.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:02:00.49] Well thanks for having me Aaron. It's delightful to be here with you.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:02:05.25] Maria is the is the founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. As I understand it, the only national organization that is committed to and fully dedicated to this issue of homelessness and poverty and so many different projects and initiatives that Maria and her organization are engaged in to deal with this problem. I thought Maria we could start if you wouldn't mind. I've read a lot of the material on your web site. It's a great web site by the way and we will recommend it. Put a link to the website so people can check it out for themselves. But I spent a good bit of time this morning reading a lot of the material on your Web site including your own personal story. And I think it's important for people to know that because it seems pretty clear that that's been a very powerful motivation for you personally and in how you got involved in this issue in the first place so perhaps you can start there.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:03:14.25] Sure. Well they're kind of two aspects to my own personal story so the way the immediate way that I got involved with the issue of homelessness in particular was by taking a pro bono case representing homeless families and this was while I was working as a litigator at a big law firm in New York. Sullivan and Cromwell a corporate law firm. I had the opportunity to do pro bono work and you know like many firms this firm offered that opportunity and I ended up representing homeless families in a class action case who had been denied emergency shelter in a suburb of York City, Long Island suburb of York City, and I through that case, I went out to visit the families and just really saw the extreme poverty that was within this otherwise wealthy suburb. And it made an impression. And I also got to see how I as a lawyer could really make a difference for these families and for this issue, more broadly how I could have an impact and that was a really powerful experience for me. I of course knew that poverty is a big issue in the United States and I knew that law could make a difference but this was actually experiencing it firsthand.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:04:56.95] Just and just for people who have never worked in a big law firm and may not appreciate the context for what you're describing here. Lots of lawyers go to work for big commercial law firm and they're representing real estate development companies and companies involved in mergers and litigation between big companies and they might take on a pro bono case meaning a case they work on for no charge for free for some public interest on some public interest topic or for a client who can't afford a lawyer. In many instances and that's often a side sort of a side gig to the real work that they're doing and getting paid for. But it sounds like that one experience is what drew you to want to not do this just on the side but actually engage in this work full time. How did that how did that come about.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:06:01.21] Well so I should also add that you know I went to the firm. So at the firm I was representing you know as you mentioned big corporate clients I was representing Goldman Sachs, I was representing Exxon. I mean this is a huge contrast to those clients and the resources they had. That's a huge contrast to the homeless families and the resources available to them. And it's a powerful contrast. And you know the pro bono experience is being able to bring resources of a big firm to people who would otherwise very likely go unrepresented. And yes so that's what drew me. And it wasn't you know looking back it wasn't truly just that one experience it was also the legacy the sort of my families legacy which is rooted in Greece during the time of the German occupation during the Nazi period and Greece was occupied by the Germans by the Nazis people suffered a great deal. And you know people were literally dying of starvation. Even though food was available in the countryside and it's that sort of disparity that contrast that needless suffering you know in the case of these homeless families there in a country there in a community that has the resources and yet they are without really the basics that human beings need to survive so that you know I think that experience also tapped into the sort of larger sense of unfairness in our world and in our country. And I think that's something many people can relate to. I don't think I'm unique in that I think I had happened to have the opportunity to actually get more deeply engaged and that came through this particular case and the opportunity the firm gave me to take it on. And I was working with a local advocacy organization the Coalition for the homeless in New York. They were the ones who had initiated this case and had approached the firm looking for volunteers. They had just so this was the now going to date myself but that's OK. So this was in the early to mid 1980's and that coincided with a time that homelessness was really becoming a big crisis in the United States. And that was you know in many ways these families were kind of emblematic of that because all of a sudden lots of people were becoming homeless and especially families. And this was happening everywhere not just in urban centers but across the country in suburbs and also in rural areas. So this was very quickly becoming a national crisis. And the group I was working with a nonprofit group was interested in starting an office in Washington to develop a national campaign to get the federal government to take action. And that seemed like an exciting opportunity to me. And so I signed up for that and I left the firm moved to D.C. to start this effort.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:09:50.56] And then I'll just throw in another, another factor here to the story and it's one that I intersect with just a little bit. And you've been very modest to leave out this part of your background but but I know you went as you mentioned you grew up you know without a lot your family did not have a lot of means yet you were able to go to Barnard College in New York for for college and I happened only a few years behind you to go to Columbia College right across Broadway right across the street in Morningside Heights and then you went to Columbia Law School. I know and remember well in the 80s being in New York City at a very privileged Ivy League law school. In my case the college I went to Columbia College and there was a lot of talk at the time about the issue of homelessness. And when you're there part of an elite and privileged you know university environment but around you you know is the rest of people who live in the city and you see the homelessness and you see the the low income conditions all around you. That's also a very powerful part of a person's education. I imagine it must have been for you as well.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:11:11.14] Yes absolutely. I think it's all about these contrasts and why some people have so much and other people don't have really what they need to live. And the unfairness of that is very powerful I think. And just to correct something I consider that I actually did grow up with a lot of privilege. I was able to you know the suffering of my family was during the war and was a result of the war. But I did not experience that myself. I grew up with a relative amount of privilege and got to go to these really schools as you mentioned. And so I feel that you know I have had a lot. And that's also you know how can I use that privilege to do something positive. And how can I use these tools and how can I use the power of the law that actually our mission to use the power of the law it is a powerful tool. And and turn it into something good.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:12:27.22] Well tell us about that then. Because I'm a big believer in the power of the law as well. How did you go from the Coalition for the Homeless to starting the National Law Center on Homelessness. How did you make that. It would seem like a big step to start a brand new organization from nothing.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:12:49.36] Yes it was a big step but the bigger step though for me I think was leaving the firm leaving Sullivan and Cromwell to start the D.C. Office for the Washington office for the Coalition because that's something I did alone. There was no other. There was nothing here it was basically me coming here renting space you know buying a phone in those days doing all those things.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:13:19.36] A real phone not a cell phone.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:13:25.03] Yeah I mean just all of that stuff that is involved in starting anything and you know just with a legal pad and a half page list of potential contacts in Washington. So that was you know in going from all the resources that you have available to you at a big firm to not even having a secretary was quite a transition. That was the big leap from my perspective. And then also coming to D.C. trying to work on homelessness at this time was becoming a crisis. But it was certainly not seen as a political issue and it wasn't seen as an issue for action by Congress. It wasn't seen as an issue for action by the executive branch. So that was a huge challenge. And I spent you know before I started the law center I spent three years building this office in Washington and developing and running this campaign or actually carrying out the campaign because in the beginning it was just me and trying to get the federal government to respond to this crisis. This was the era of Ronald Reagan. And at the time Reagan was taking the position that homelessness is a lifestyle choice. It's just you know people like to live outdoors. And that's just how it is. And it's not something that the federal government should do anything about.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:15:16.73] But before you go but they did they were doing things because I was in Washington around the same time period you're talking about and I remember there were some things that the Reagan administration did that impacted homelessness. Right. There were there were steps taken that that released a lot of individuals who may have had psychiatric issues onto the streets. There were cuts to funding to cities that attributed to all kinds of issues cities were trying to deal with in that time. I mean and then there was the whole thing about calling ketchup a vegetable as I remember right.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:15:56.86] Right. Yes yes. Yes exactly. No you're absolutely right. Right. And this goes to the kind of Good Law Bad Law theme because there were a lot of things that the Reagan administration did that led to the sudden increase in homelessness. And the primary I mean there are all kinds of cuts social safety net programs. But the huge cut to federal housing programs low income housing programs had an impact that is still being felt and those funds for federal support for low income housing those funds were cut very dramatically. So just to give you a sense of the scale, in 1979 the Federal Government was funding over 300,000 new units of affordable housing for poor people annually. And then in 1982 that number went down to under 3,000. So this is a huge cut. And it had a big impact. And I know the leading cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing and the withdrawal of funds for this help that that had been provided had a lot to do with it but also cuts in other types of social benefits. What you're talking about with the mental institutions or de-institutionalization that is actually something that started under President Kennedy and it started with a good goal which was that people could look at who had been institutionalized could function in the community if they were given adequate support. And you know the second part of this didn't happen the first part happened where people were you know a lot of state institutions closed people were let out mainly in the 70s but continuing through into the 80s and then they were abandoned. What Reagan did was cut certain benefits  known as SSI benefits Social Security disability benefits for people who would otherwise have been eligible for them. So we're just adding to that impact.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:18:44.94] Ok so then what led you after a couple of years in Washington working on this to set up a new organization and what was the idea that this organization would be focused on that you been doing it.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:19:00.58] Well so the idea was to focus very specifically on legal advocacy. So the Coalition did all kinds of things including providing services not My office in D.C. but the organization which was still based in New York at the time and community organizing. And I wanted to and the law center focuses specifically on legal strategy and legal advocacy. By the time I left the Coalition to start that in 1989 I had you know we had had a big success with the passage of the Stewart McKinney Act now known as the Stewart McKinney Ventoux act. That with the first federal legislation to address homelessness. The first major legislation still the major legislation to address homelessness. And two years after that is when I started the law center and one of our key goals was to ensure that this new law would be actually enforced and implemented. And then to build on it. So that was the idea of the law center and that's what we've been doing.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:20:18.04] Can you give us an overview if you would and I know we've already you and I discussed it we're going to have trouble getting all of this into one hour here so. I know this is a very open ended and very broad question but as the Law Center has evolved. Can you give us an overview of what the major focuses have been and what the major focuses are today and we're going to talk just just so folks know where we're going we are going to talk specifically about one very important case that the Law Center one very recently involving homeless in Boise Idaho. We'll talk about that and I also want to save some time toward the end to talk about some of the advocacy work you've been doing and the publication of this really impressive report called The State Index of youth homelessness. But before we get to some of those specific examples of your work. Give us if you would an overview of the areas that you've concentrated in on the litigation side on the impact mitigation side and on the advocacy side.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:21:21.36] Sure. So we have concentrated our goal is to end and prevent homelessness. And so we have focused on that sort of long range goal in our work in terms of litigation. We have. Well let me back. So a lot of the response to homelessness certainly the early response has been very focused on emergency relief and the initial federal legislative response that I worked on that I mentioned was comprehensive. But most of the funding was concentrated in emergency shelters which are important but not a long term solution. They don't they're not the same as actually providing affordable permanent housing. So a lot of our effort has been to try to move beyond that emergency relief towards a longer term solution. And a lot of our early advocacy was enforcing the provisions of the law but also shaping law to move beyond it. So getting enacting new policies. So for to give an example of that. We've been very active in creating protections for domestic violence survivors Housing Protection and housing rights for domestic violence survivors. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women primarily women. Not only women.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:23:00.01] Women and children I would imagine.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:23:02.7] Exactly. And their children who are faced with the dilemma either staying with an abuser or fleeing and then not having any place to live. So protecting housing rights and providing housing options for the survivors is a critical way to prevent them from becoming homeless. So years ago over 10 years ago we got involved in adding housing rights for language to the violence against women act and that was successful. And that's something we've built on and have had a number of legislative successes in expanding those protection.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:23:49.14] I think that's a that's a great example as we noted this in the beginning that the actual name of your organization is the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. I think when people think about homelessness if they're thinking about it probably most people are just walking past people they might see on the street. And not really thinking about it but when they think about addressing the problem of homelessness I think a lot of people think about shelters as an answer and you're pointing out that at best not that this isn't important to have but that at best a shelter is only a temporary fix to a problem but to get it the real fix is to find the causes of homelessness and address those and housing issues so don't mean interrupt your overview but I think that seems very important to appreciate and I'm appreciating it as you explain this. You really can't lock to address homelessness in any fundamental and long term way unless you address these deeper issues we have leading to homelessness.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:24:59.73] Exactly. That's exactly right. And you're right that a lot of people don't understand that and we deliberately put the word poverty in our name because there had been this idea out there and it's still out there that homelessness is somehow something different than poverty and homeless people are different than other poor people. And really this continuum. I mean people of course people who are very poor and more vulnerable to homelessness. But really there's a spectrum of housing need and a lot of people have trouble affording a place to live. And some people end up becoming homeless and we need to address that because the shelters are not a solution. And right now there's not even enough shelter. And but even if there were this is not a solution it's temporary at best it's a band aid. You know in terms of other issues we work on kids you know homeless children. That's a critical issue. The right to go to school. That's also something that people often don't think about. But if you're a homeless child you may not have the ability to stand in school which is critical both for kids at the moment and also to prevent them from becoming homeless in the future.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:26:36.06] And just on that Maria there was an article that just came out very recently based on a report by the advocates for children of New York that reveals that one in 10 schoolchildren in New York City are homeless. One out of every 10. And this was I thought an incredible quote in the story that the number of students these are children. The number of students who are homeless in New York City would fill Yankee Stadium twice.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:27:09.05] Wow.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:27:09.43] So if anybody's wondering how big a problem is this even as we continue. You know every day to walk by any number of kind of nameless faces that we see in the streets on the sidewalks. Yankee Stadium filled twice gives you a pretty powerful image to think about when thinking about the size of this problem.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:27:32.02] Right. Right. That's a huge problem. It's a huge problem. And you know that may even be an underestimate. It's a huge problem for these kids and also will for their families of course but for all of us and for their future you know because if kids these kids are growing up under very tough conditions and you know making sure that they can at least get some kind of stable education or some continuity in their school experience is something that can help them and both address their immediate needs and also help give them some kind of a chance for the future. And in the federal law that I spoke about the McKinney-Vento Act there is actually guaranteed a right to school continuity the right to go to school despite the fact that they don't have an address and a right to stay in their school. The school that they were in before they became homeless. But just as you know just because there is a right doesn't mean that right will be enforced. And so this is an issue we've been working on since our inception enforcing this right making sure that it actually becomes a reality. And we do that in a number of ways. One way is through impact litigation. We've litigated a number of cases to make sure that kids who are homeless actually are able to go to school. And we've also worked to get the law strengthened and you know Got in federal guidance and all of the tools that lawyers use to try to strengthen rights. And yeah there there's another piece of our work which is that we also do a lot of educational and outreach. So you know creating know your rights materials. People can't claim a right if they don't know they have it and a lot of our work is doing that kind of outreach and education.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:29:48.64] OK. So I think another aspect of our conversation that's that's important so people understand some of the specific things that can be done to address the problem is we touched on this a bit so far is the scope of the problem I mentioned this study is just out just on New York City. But I wonder if you could give us a sense of the scope of the problem nationwide and is it getting worse are there more homeless today than say there were 10, 20, 30 years ago other than or in addition to domestic violence which you already mentioned as a leading cause for homelessness among women. And yet what are some of the other leading causes today is shortage of low income housing still the issue it was when you started. Is the opioid crisis something that contributes to the homelessness problem today. If you could just speak to that a little bit.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:30:54.99] Sure. Sure. Well the shortage of affordable housing was and remains the leading cause of homelessness. There's no doubt about that there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing in this country and it really affects everyone but it affects poor people most extremely such that yes some of the people who are very poor become homeless and that is the leading cause right now of all people who are poor enough to be eligible for federal loans and housing assistance. Only one in four actually receive that because of the funding cuts I talked about. So that is a huge disparity and there are studies that show that there is a shortage of over 7 million units affordable to extremely poor people. So that really underlies the crisis of homelessness. Other factors contribute to it. So of course you know sure the opioid crisis right now it's having an effect. And it's certainly influencing the homelessness of a segment of people. And you know that's true people who are homeless have other problems. You know there's a disproportionate percentage suffer from mental illness not the majority. It's a significant minority though. Jobs I mean the lack of adequate income is sort of the flip side of the housing crisis. There are people there's a surprising percentage of people who are homeless who actually work either full time or part time but don't make enough money to pay for housing to be able to afford a housing. So all of these factors are relevant and are driving. But the kind of common thread is the lack of affordable housing. Even with something like the opioid crisis which could affect in theory could affect anyone having a place to live can make a key difference in your chances for recovery and for treatment.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:33:30.75] It seems like there is such profound challenges to address the needs of those people who do find themselves homeless for whichever one of these many possible causes. And you know drug use mental illness losing a job lack of access to affordable housing or maybe even all of the above. But then there are what seem like that much more insurmountable challenges. When you talk about the root causes of these problems in the first place so where do you see. I want to get into the subject to this important case from Boise. Because that speaks to the problem on a day to day night tonight basis for so many of these people. But where do you see the most promise in either dealing with the day to day problems homeless face and getting at some of these root causes. Where do you see the greatest promise at this point.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:34:42.23] So right now and actually for years there has been a focus in many cities on people who are un-sheltered and living in public spaces. And a lot of that focus has been very negative using the law and very punitive and ultimately counterproductive ways. So in many cities around the country there are laws that make it a crime to live outside and essentially criminalize homelessness. So for example cities are enacting laws that make it a crime to sleep in public places or to camp Florida loiter or to eat in public or sit down lie down or to ask others for help to panhandle. So these are you know there are lots of different permutations of these laws. Taken together they amount to criminalizing homelessness and they're kind of this is kind of the front line in a lot of community advocacy and of city response because you know cities understandably don't like having people who are visibly poor living in public places. But instead of actually solving the problem what they're doing is passing laws that make it a crime. Advocates are fighting this and we're often litigating or otherwise challenging these kinds of laws because they don't make sense. But I think they also present an opportunity because I think we can all agree that people shouldn't be living outside. The question is what do you do about it. Do you have these laws that make it a crime or do you perhaps enact some better laws that create some housing right or that actually create some housing for people. And so we have recently started a campaign called housing not handcuffs where we make the case for housing as opposed to criminalization. And you know there is an opportunity especially now because we have some cost studies that show that it is actually less expensive to house people than to try to bring the criminal justice system to bear in an effort to push them out.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:37:41.1] Well Mary that's a perfect segue actually to to this case from Boise Idaho a case called Martin vs. City of Boise that the law center was involved in and achieved I think a very important victory. I read the opinion from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the Federal Court of Appeals in the West part of our country and I was fascinated that the court the appeals court decided this case as a matter of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment and we just recorded actually an episode that will be the episode that precedes this one on the 8th amendment when it comes to capital punishment and lethal injection. And it just was striking to me because of course capital punishment. We like to think and I think mostly it is reserved for the most heinous crime the most violent crimes. Murder and rape kidnapping in the worst crimes are an issue in a conversation about the Eighth Amendment there and here in this case involving homeless the most innocuous seeming crimes loitering or sleeping out for that night under you know in a public space the court again sees this as an eighth amendment cruel and unusual punishment issue. So that's my little introduction and spin because it was fascinating to me. So tell us a little about this case what happened and how the court resolve the issue right there.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:39:23.22] So the city of Boise has the so-called anti camping ban where you're not allowed to camp in public places and essentially defined camping as sleeping and so you're not allowed to sleep anywhere in public. And the Eighth Amendment comes into play because the Eighth Amendment is a prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. But it also applies to what can be made criminal. It's making something which is not only innocuous but actually necessary for every human being namely sleep making that criminal constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. And you know it is one way to think of it as the status conduct distinction. Basically you're criminalizing someone for who they are for their status. Because if your homeless by definition you have nowhere else to sleep. But in public that becomes a crime. That's the key. And you know the city of Boise argued well you know in fact people have a place to sleep because there are shelters. And so then we have to show that in fact the shelters were not actually available. There are three shelters in the city two of which are Gospel Missions where there's religious expectations and requirements. But they also are you can only stay in them for 15 nights out of every month. I mean each of the shelters has not only limited capacity but also rules preventing people from staying there for a longer period of time. So we were able to show that shelter was not actually available and people were required to sleep outside. And of course what's cruel and unusual punishment and is unconstitutional. And it's very important this is not the first time a court has made a ruling like this but this is a very strong ruling and it was especially important that the court didn't go along with this argument from the city about the availability of shelter and looked behind their claim to find that in fact it was not available. And of course the Ninth Circuit covers such a huge part of the country that you know we're already seeing the impact of that and hopefully we'll be able to see some more impact.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:42:25.81] Well I think the point that she made about this and it strikes me that this is really what the court is saying here that is very profound. They don't exactly come right out and say this but then they do and it reminded me and here I'm going to go and give some obscure music reference and I can already hear my wife say nobody remembers those songs. But it reminds me of a song by artist Bruce Hornsby and I don't remember the title song but it tells a story of a guy walking by a homeless person and then in the song he says get a job. Yeah to the guy and it strikes me that this is really a repudiation of that because and I think there must there is a bias that so many of us have that somebody is homeless and on the street by choice and that they'd only just get up on their feet and go get a job and go somewhere else. They wouldn't be where they are at the court here is saying if if there were adequate shelter beds they wouldn't be on the street. They were some way in which they could not be on the street they wouldn't be on the street. That seems just so defining in how the court addressed this issue of overall.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:43:50.82] Right. Well and it's part of the constitutional argument. Right. I mean if people were out there because they wanted to be or they just enjoyed being out there that would have constitutional consequences.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:44:08.3] Right. Well but if they had a choice then it wouldn't be a constitutional issue. It is Cruel and unusual to punish people who who are not there by choice.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:44:20.99] Right exactly.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:44:22.43] So you see you think that this case I mean of course the Ninth Circuit is a very influential Court of Appeals not the Supreme Court obviously but you see this is having an impact as other communities you know maybe you pay attention to the cost too and maybe there's a bias. Well we can't spend money on shelters but people don't often think about the cost associated with putting someone through the criminal justice system.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:44:50.68] That's exactly right. Right right. So I think what this does is clearly it has a direct impact in the Ninth Circuit which covers a very large part of the country.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:45:04.97] I mean nine or ten states right there that are covered. And it's of course not binding on the rest of the country. But it's still persuasive authority but I think you know beyond the strictly legal impact there is also the the policy and political impact where I think cities are beginning to realize that this is not or some cities at least and it's partly because of because there is a cost to sending police out and prosecuting cases and putting people in jail and that's expensive. And now we have the data to back that up and that gets the attention of city and it's not only does it is it expensive it doesn't solve the problem. I mean people will still be there even if they are jailed or moved on to some other part of town they'll still be somewhere and just general.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:46:10.7] Might give someone a place to sleep for a night or two but then they're out of jail and they're in the same position they were in before.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:46:16.58] Exactly right.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:46:19.64] And it's either actually in a worse position because now they have a record and it will be even harder to get a job or get into housing or really get much of anything. So it really makes the problem worse. And you know having a court sort of draw a constitutional line can help spur a political response. And you know we would like. I mean our plan is to make that case because I don't know that it's going to happen necessarily by itself but with this we can push cities in a more constructive direction.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:47:02.44] Ok. Well I promised that we would save a little time at the end to talk about this report that's just come out that the 10 years but actually partnering with another organization True Colors Fund which is the organization that was started by Cyndi Lauper so tell it tell us a little bit about what this is and how you came to partner with her and with that organization. And then we talk about the special problem of LGBT youth and how that plays into the problem overall of young people and homelessness.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:47:40.91] Sure. So youth homelessness is a big issue. And as you as you note there's also a strong crossover with LGBTQ issues because about 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ so a big overlap there. And you know the issue of homeless youth this is something we've worked on for quite a number of years. But this is the first time we partnered with True Colors Fund it's a good partnership. We each bring different perspectives to the work and they have more of an LGBTQ focus and we have the law focus and we brought the two together to create the State Index which looks at homeless youth generally but we look at you know among the things we look at are legal rights of these youths. The laws governing pr the are the laws that apply to homeless youth or don't apply or some laws are good very positive if they help you know to the extent that there are laws that protect youth or allow them to be emancipated and exercise some legal right and legal control over their lives and get access to resources. That's a helpful thing. But there are also laws that penalize them or don't allow them to for example enter into contracts or you know get health care that they might need or that truancy laws can unfairly penalize them. So we looked at a lot of different. So we looked at a lot of different laws. We also assessed the environment and we did this state by state. So most of these laws are a matter of state law. So we looked at all of the state 50 states plus the District of Columbia and assessed legal rights and also environment system how are youth treated. How are LGBTQ youth treated is the environment hostile is it not is it more welcoming. And we basically graded each state so that you know we had I think sixty two indicators and we took all of them into account and assigned a grade to each state with detailed reasons for the grade. And the idea is that this is now useful as a tool for state level advocates who and also for state policymakers interested in this issue for how they can how they need to improve recommendations for how they can do better to meet the needs of these youth. And a way to hold them accountable.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:51:12.43] Right because you're looking at all these different variables. What are the support services offered. What are the laws that might be punitive. What type of training is there for staff were involved. All these different variables and then it really is a report card. State by state by state so you're in Kentucky or you're in Connecticut and you want to see your state's doing you can look and actually see where your state gets high marks and where it gets low marks that's an area where it points out the areas that can be worked on for improvement and notable is the fact that really none of the states get much of a passing grade. I mean it looks like the state that ranks number one. You know after this analysis you know barely passes with I think a score of sixty five Washington State has a sixty five and with number one ranking. But there's still a lot of improvement even in a state that ranks number one out of all the states.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:52:19.87] Exactly yeah. That's exactly right. So lots of room for improvement. But this is the idea was to provide a baseline and a tool for advocates and something that can actually that actually has some practical ideas for how to remedy some of these failures.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:52:44.56] And this report I know I found it it's on the website for the the law center. Do you want to. We'll include it in the description but just for people just want to just give a mention for how people can get to the law center how they can get to the website and get a lot more information.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:53:03.96] Yes. Yes we'd love to have visitors to our website. Thank you for prompting that Aaron so it's So NLCHP those are our organizational initials and we have lots material There are reports other resources manuals information and you can find it all there.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:53:35.42] And if you're and if you want particularly to learn more about this last issue that we've been talking about and look at the 2018 state index you can certainly read the summary information in the in the front. But then you can go look for the detail on your state and see how your state is doing and how it's not doing and it's fascinating. And the plan is to follow up with this every year an update it. Is that right.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:54:05.02] That is the plan. Yes. That is the plan so that we can so it will also be an accountability accountability tool. So I should also mention and people here in my office will want me to to make sure to ask you to also include not just our Website but we also have a Facebook page we have a Twitter account. Please follow us like us. All of the things. We have a monthly newsletter. And anybody who's interested it's free so anyone who is interested can sign up online.


Aaron Freiwald: [00:54:49.42] That's Maria Foscarinis founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. What an important and I think very much underappreciated issue that needs a lot more attention I'm really glad you could be on our podcast to shed some light on this. We didn't have nearly enough time to go into into more but we covered it a good bit. Really appreciate your time and that.


Maria Foscarinis: [00:55:23.58] I appreciate your your interest. Thanks a lot Aaron.